The Girls by Emma Cline
Publication Date: June 14, 2016
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Adult
Warning: This book contains sexually graphic content and the usage of illegal drugs.
When Evie, a young teenager living in Northern California, sees Suzanne in the park one day, it seems that her summer was fated. Evie’s thrall with Suzanne causes her to be drawn into a strange cult, become involved with older men, and experience the exotic thrill of rebelling. Evie doesn’t realize that the more time she spends on the ranch with the careless and free girls only draws her closer to a defining moment in her life: when she must choose violence or not being accepted.
I loved the concept of this book; the story idea seemed on point, the characters seemed alluring, but, to me, the book fell far from my expectations. Walking into this book, I thought that it would be more culty? What I mean by that is that the leader would be more controlling, the followers would be more secluded, more crime would be done. In reality, the story was nice, but it did not live up to the hype that seemed to surround it.
I also want to make aware that, even though the word is never put out in the story, the main character, a 15-year-old girl is sexually engaged with older men. The way that sex was approached in this book did seem very cultish, but it also seemed like rape but where the girls were persuaded that it was their choice and that they were chosen. This aspect of the book made me, as a reader, extremely uncomfortable. One reason because Evie, the main character, is young.
The other disappointment is that the book only takes place for the duration of a summer. One summer. Evie’s perspective is interesting, sort of, but I would rather have the same book, but from Suzanne’s perspective instead.
Suzanne’s character was very interesting, and Evie followed her around like a puppy and was the entire reason why she was involved in the “cult”. Suzanne had been there from the beginning and was like the wife of the whole thing, the woman in charge. The reader is able to see that she doesn’t enjoy being forced to do some of the tasks but is okay with others, that she likes being in charge and in the spotlight. From a writer’s perspective, I can see why Cline chose Evie’s point of view, because of the striking difference from her everyday life as a well-off teenager and the cult life, but to me, as a reader, Evie was like a beige wall when compared to Suzanne.
One aspect of Evie’s character that makes her more interesting is the relationship between her and her mother. Her parents had just split because her father was cheating while her mother was oblivious (from Evie’s view at least). Her mother had just begun dating a few weeks after the split, and Evie is angered because her mother just wants to stay at home and take care of a man who wants to suck money off of her. It’s an interesting parallel from the ranch where the cult’s crew lives at, where the women are taking care of the men. There was a lot of potential for more depth in this portion of the story, and I am disappointed that Cline did not elaborate more.
Russel, the leader of the cult, is an interesting character that I would rather ignore, but I do believe that he should be addressed. He is the perfect cult leader on paper because he is charming and can get people to do whatever he wants, but he is yucky. He uses women and their trust, makes his followers live in filth, abuses drugs and promotes the usage of drugs in his followers, who are mainly adolescents, and is just a terrible guy. These qualities make him the perfect terrible cult leader. Every time he was mentioned in the book, I recoiled and began to hate him.
Cline’s style of writing was enjoyable, progressive, and sharp. I do look forward to reading more of her books in the future. The story went back and forth from the past (1969) to the more present day where Evie is older and staying in a friend’s vacation home while in between jobs. This was a very readable way to show the progress that Evie had made, but it also told the story that because of what had happened to her when she was young, that she does not trust the world, nor does she trust men, rather thinking that women have to protect each other.
The historical side of the story is lovely. This period of time is fascinating to me because of the major changes that were happening to American culture during that time. Cline executed this portion of the story perfectly, making the reader feel as if they had stepped back into the late 1960s. I have a soft spot in my heart for historical fiction, which drew me to the book, and I was not disappointed in that aspect.
Pick up this book and read it. I still recommend reading it if you like historical fiction, issues that come with being a teen, and cult-related activities. It was a pleasant enough read, but not what I was expecting.
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